Social Media, how do you plead? Not guilty your honour.

Social media, it’s all fun and games until someone loses a lawsuit.  Last week we looked at some of the benefits and risks that an organisation needs to consider when deciding whether or not they want to implement Enterprise 2.0 technologies.  This week we’re going to delve a little deeper into the risk side, and look at some of the legal risks associated with Enterprise 2.0.  Who’d have thought that there were so many ways you could break the law while tweeting?

The legal implications of organisations branching out into the use of social media are huge, there are so many things that need to be considered, like copyright, privacy, defamation, fair work practices, loss of confidential information and loss of reputation (just to name a few).  So, what can an organisation do to avoid falling victim to these risks?

Well, the organisation that I’ve chosen to look at is CASA.  What on earth is a CASA you ask?  Well CASA stands for Civil Aviation Safety Authority and they are responsible for “enhancing and promoting aviation safety through effective regulation and by encouraging the wider aviation community to embrace and deliver higher standards of safety.”  (CASA, 2012)  So basically CASA’s job is to regulate civil air operations in Australia and the operation of Australian aircraft overseas.  (Keep us safe while we fly, that sort of stuff.)  Do you recall when when Tiger Airways was suspended from flying last year because there were doing some shonky things like flying their planes below the minimum permitted altitude?  Well that was CASA who decided to ground their planes.

So in the case of CASA, let’s have a bit of a look at the sort of things can go wrong:

  • Loss of confidential information – a federal government organisation such as CASA has plenty of super-secret information tucked away, it would be huge problem for them if the following occurred:  an ignorant CASA employee tweets

  • Defamation – cranky staff jumping onto either their own or the organisation’s facebook page/twitter account/social network and venting their frustrations about another co-worker or manager.
  • Reputation Risk – staff making inappropriate tweets via the CASA twitter account that make the company look bad.
  • Bullying &/or Harassment – CASA staff using CASA sponsored social networking mediums to attack other members of staff.
  • Negligence – if CASA were to know that staff were bullying other staff via facebook/twitter/etc and not take any action.
  • Wrongful Dismissal – an employee gets sacked for doing bad stuff on social media and claims that they didn’t deserve it.

So how could CASA protect themselves from some of the above mentioned risks:
Step 1:  Get an awesome social media policy that lays out in black and white what staff can and cannot do on social media.
Step 2:  Make sure that staff know that it’s there.  One of those dreaded company wide emails may need to be sent, or an announcement could be made on the company’s intranet.
Step 3:  Copies off all of the posts to the company twitter account and social network will need to be kept.  This is necessary if something does go wrong and they need evidence.
Step 4:  Enforce the social media policy.

Simple in theory, maybe not so easy in practice, but I think that it’s worth the risk.

References: 

Legal Risks of Social Networking for Business

Sydney Morning Herald: Using Social Media? Know your legal risks

Copyright Act 1968 (Cth)

Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)

Defamation Act 2005 (QLD)

Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)

CASA Website

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11 Responses to Social Media, how do you plead? Not guilty your honour.

  1. knowlsey92 says:

    I had never heard of CASA I had only heard of the NTSB (American) It kinda amazes me about what companies don’t have a Social Networking site, could you say CASA should send out a company email and allow its members to join groups association with that email like what facebook with like what it has with QUT, when i got to add groups i have the option to create a group or join a group at QUT using my QUT email which is setup on my facebook

  2. 2ndweb says:

    Hi Candice,
    You have provided a great case study example by using CASA. The potential legal implications for allowing social media interactions within a government organisation are obviously heightened, due to the type of information and public responsibility that they hold. A Social Media Policy is undoubtedly a safeguard for the organisation, however do you think the policy is more useful for providing a framework for dealing with crisis situations if and when they occur, or as a proactive measure to prevent problems in the first instance? Curious to know your thoughts….

    Cheers,
    Ben

  3. It’s a good point, companies ay need to keep a record of emoloyee interactions on social media if an incidents arises in contravention of the social media policy that is serious enough to result in damage to the organisation. The nature of social networking sites (the data is owned by someone else) means that their may be no evidence to be used to support disciplinary actuon. For example if that hypothetical CASA employee tweeted about their confidential and unproved concern about an airline and then deleted the tweet. It would be an interesting case if the situation ever arose!

    • Hi Amanda. As a matter of fact we had a similar incident to the one you described above recently at my work. Not confidential information though, more a case of defamation. A staff member took to his own facebook page and made a couple of very inappropriate posts regarding his feelings towards his manager. He later had second thoughts about what he’d said and deleted the pots, but before that happened, someone that he works with and who he is also friends with on facebook took screen shots of the posts and sent them to his manager. He is still waiting to find out whether or not he will lose his job.

      Thanks for the feedback.

  4. Adam Cassar says:

    Hi Candice,

    I think for a government organization they may need to send off more then a company email as Malcolm pointed out. It would probably be safest to have them all sign an agreement that they acknowledge the social media policy change perhaps? or at least organize group meetings.

    Do you think just sending out a company wide email is enough to let people know about the new SMP?

    • Thanks for the comment Adam. In response to your question, it would really depend on what the existing company policy is for informing staff of documentation updates. For an organisation such as CASA, which would have hundreds, maybe thousands of employees all over the country, it might not be suitable to arrange group meetings with every single member of staff. And also, image the paperwork overheads if each member of staff had to sign a document every single time the policy changed? I know that where I work (similar situation to CASA, government organisation, heaps of employees at various sites around the country) whenever any policy document is changed, an email is broadcast to all members of staff. It is then the responsibility of the staff to read the newly updated policy. I know that emailing every single staff member is a bit extreme, but it does mean that every staff member gets notice of the policy update as everyone has a corporate email address. There is then no way that anybody can claim that they weren’t aware of the change. In addition to this, when new staff enter the organisation, they are put on “orientation training” where they are made aware of all company policies and procedures and where they can find copies of them on the Intranet. Hope this answers your question. Cheers.

  5. Vernon Naidoo says:

    Hi Candice
    Nice informative blog highlighting the legal risks and preventative measures. I think employers need to take all the necessary precautions to prevent a potential lawsuit from an employee as well as constantly keeping their social media policy current to constant changes of social media tools.

  6. PrapatW says:

    I think we also need to educate our staff about social medias apart from your 4 steps too. If everyone follow social medias policy but they don’t really know how to use social medias there will be chances that the employees will make mistakes. Social medias are really delicate. You’ll be able to break many laws just by upload something on to your wall in Facebook, tweet something on Twitter, or upload your moments on to Youtube.

    Cheers,

    Prapat W.

    • Hi Prapat,

      Great point. Your right, it’s all well and good giving a bunch of people a book with the rules to the game of soccer, but if you send them out on to the field without first teaching them how to play, chances are, they aren’t going to get it right are they? Having said that, how does a large organisation teach all of it’s employees to use social media properly? It’s easy with a small company, just run an in house training course, but for a really big company it becomes a rather daunting and potentially expensive task. I suppose the most efficient way to do it would be to provide staff with online training, which I know is a popular method of educating staff at my workplace for things like fire safety and drug and alcohol policies. Staff could be required to complete this training once a year to ensure that the information is retained.

      Thanks for the feedback, I like being given a different view of a situation, makes me think. 🙂

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